Tim Weiner, who covers national security for The New York Times, talked at UC Berkeley’s J-school today about his latest book and career. Weiner has written three books: Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget, Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames an American Spy and Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA. The last won America’s National Book Award for non-fiction in November. Blank Check arose from a series of articles Weiner wrote while working at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1988. He won the Pulitzer Prize for those stories. Weiner said Legacy of Ashes was about how the most powerful country in the history of Western civilisation had “failed to create a first-rate spy service”. He saw the book as a warning rather than criticism of the CIA. The war on terrorism was a “war of ideas and intelligence,” Weiner said, and not a war that involved tanks and missiles. The best model the CIA could adopt for the future was the British intelligence system of the 19th century, where agents spoke the language and understood the culture of the countries that Britain sought to influence. America needed people in the CIA with a long-term approach rather than seeing their work as a series of short-term contracts. Will read Legacy of Ashes ($US 28 + taxes) on the flight home March 2.